Much as it is with Christmas, it’s sad to see how far Oktoberfest has strayed from its true roots. Back in 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12 in Munich, it was all about celebrating by drinking lots and lots of beer. What? That’s what it’s still about? Nevermind.
American brewers have started to get in on the game as well, with big names like Sam Adams getting in on the act with their very own Oktoberfest brew, but what about the brewers right here in Minnesota? There is, after all, a strong German heritage in the area, so it seems like it would only follow that some of our local breweries could whip up a pretty mean Oktoberfest of their own. But first, the control:
Ayinger can lay claim to being an authentic brewer of Oktoberfest, located as it is in Aying, Bavaria, just a short 25 km from Munich. Plus, their Oktober Fest-Märzen was the highest rated Vienna Märzen in 2007. Noticeably less dark than most American versions of Oktoberfest, Ayinger’s brew has the crisp light flavor of a beer like Pilsner Urquell, although with unmistakable honey overtones that push it a bit darker and gives it its amber character. It’s available at finer liquor stores like South Lyndale Liquors and although it’s underrepresented at local bars, similarly truly German Oktoberfest beers (such as Spaten, Paulaner, and Hacker Pschorr) can be had at Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit in Minneapolis and The Glockenspiel in Saint Paul.
Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit
2300 University Avenue Northeast
Minneapolis, MN 55418
Hours: Tue-Thu 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-11pm; Sun 3pm-10pm
605 7th St W
St Paul, MN
Hours: Daily 11am-1pm
New Ulm brewer Schell’s makes its version of Oktoberfest using Pale, Munich, and Cara Pils malt in combination with Liberty and Perle hops to create a brew with a character very similar to the Ayinger. It’s a little less crisp and has a kind of sour sweetness, plus the blunter flavor doesn’t sustain as well. It’s still got scads more flavor than your typical American lager, though, and well worth a try.
August Schell Brewing Co.
1860 Schell Road
New Ulm, MN 56073
Hours: Tours giving Friday, Saturday & Sunday’s check site for specific times based on season
Leinenkugel’s Oktoberfest is a bit more bitter than your other Oktoberfest options, but also the softest overall. You could call it the easiest drinking of the beers here, the least in your face but also maybe the least interesting to the palate. Like Schell’s, it uses Pale and Munich malt, plus Caramel and Tettnang, Cluster, and Hallertau hops in addition to Perle. Bottom line, if you enjoy Leinie’s, you’ll probably dig this, but it’s nothing to write home about. Located about two hours from Minneapolis you can take a tour of the brewery, which is open daily.
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
124 E Elm St.
Chippewa Falls, WI 54729
Hours: Mon-Thurs, Sat 9am-5pm; Fri 9am-8pm; Sun 11am-4pm
Just about any bar with a seasonal Summit selection, Sweeney’s, The Bulldog NE, Happy Gnome is bound to be pouring Summit’s Oktoberfest this fall, and with good reason. Summit EPA is ubiquitous and unfortunately a poor representation of the brand, which does a better job with its seasonal offerings. Their Oktoberfest is no slacker, a well-balanced beer that’s plenty malty and not overly hoppy. A clear winner over Leinie’s and Schell’s.
910 Montreal Cir
St. Paul, MN 55102
Hours: Weekdays 8:30am-4:30pm; Sat 1pm-3pm
Tiny Brooklyn Park brewery Surly takes the most liberty with their take on Oktoberfest, which is not at all surprising since the can itself says, “A traditional Oktoberfest bier from Surly? Nein!” Known for the intense hoppiness of their year-round brews like Furious and Bender, Surly provides a similar hoppiness in Surlyfest. This gives it a punch, but a much blunter one than the sharpness of Ayinger. It’s definitely the darkest of the bunch, with the end result being not so much a straight Oktoberfest beer as such a beer seen through the lens of Surly’s emphasis on hops and strength. It’s on tap at lots of places around town, including the Nomad World Pub, which also features a couple other non-German Oktoberfests – Shiner Oktoberfest from Texas and New Belgium’s Hoptober from Colorado.
Surly Brewing Co.
4811 Dusharme Dr
Minneapolis, MN 55429
Hours: Tours run most Friday’s 6pm-8pm and most Saturday’s 5pm-7pm
Steve McPherson is a writer and musician who has lived in the Twin Cities since 2004, where he teaches writing and music at McNally Smith. His dog is named after both a drink and a guitar. He tweets from @steventurous.